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ans of the 1980s sitcom Cheers may recall the • There is excessive absenteeism or tardiness not
episode in which the character named Norm in- related to an employee’s medical condition;
voluntarily becomes his boss’ go-to person for firing • Unsatisfactory performance; and
employees. So unnerved is he by the assignment, • Misconduct.
and so tearful in delivering the bad news, that even
the employees being let go feel sorry for him. However, it is important to note that in any of these
circumstances (with the exception of misconduct),
Although amusing, the episode is a vivid reminder managers should review their company policies
that discharging an employee for any reason is one related to the situation, and utilize a progressive
of the most unpleasant (and sometimes emotionally disciplinary process. Managers should consult their
draining) tasks for any manager. It can also be Human Resources (HR) department or an attorney
potentially fraught with liability. That’s why it is prior to disciplining or terminating an employee.
extremely important to follow a well-documented
process whenever an employee is performing The proper progressive disciplinary process
unsatisfactorily and in the event a termination involves:
becomes necessary. 1. Communicating with the employee about
performance issues. Often, verbal coaching or a
In most states, employment is considered “at-will verbal warning is enough to bring an employee
employment,” meaning that there is no contract back on track;
guaranteeing employment, and management can 2. Giving the employee a written warning that
terminate a staff member at any time as long as includes mention of the previous verbal
it is not for an illegal reason. However, employers warning/coaching;
should always proceed with caution, as there are 3. Suspension (this is not always necessary and
many employment laws to be considered that depends on the circumstances); and finally
can diminish at-will employment, such as Title 4. Termination of employment.
VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Family Case Study:
and Medical Leave Act. A female under 40 years of age was employed at
Company X for one year as an accountant. She was
It’s acceptable to terminate an employee when: responsible for submitting month-end financials,
• There is a violation of company policy(e.g., anti- ensuring the accuracy of the general ledger
harassment rules or safety procedures); and financials, and meeting deadlines. She was
• An employee has falsified his or her employment habitually late in submitting these financials and,
records; moreover, they were frequently inaccurate.
 ThinkBusiness April 2009 
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